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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 6 page 17


The last trees were being chopped, the last animals were being butchered, the last plants were being uprooted. Prices soared to what Crémazie called “insane” levels. A turkey now cost 190 francs, up from 100 the previous month. A rabbit was 60 francs, a duck 40, a cat 25, a pigeon 18. Looking to economize? Sewer rats, which were the fattest ones, could be had for three francs apiece. Supposing you had work, you could work all day, buy a rat, have a couple francs left for wine. Almost all the carriage horses had been eaten. Crémazie began to picture human cannibalism as the final outcome if the siege continued. There was still so-called bread available. The bread was dark and heavy as lead, composed of at best 20% wheat, the remainder being a mix of rice, peas, beans, lentils, and “a seasoning of straw.”

By the third week of January, the mortality rate in Paris was 650 persons per day. “The government claims we can hold out to March 15,” said Crémazie. “By that time, half the population will be dead from hunger and cold.”

Crémazie, near the end of his strength, was experiencing stomach cramps painful enough to prevent sleep. On January 23 a new food appears in his journal:

Crows, a hard, tough meat, are quite numerous at the food merchants. They sell for 8 francs apiece. As you eat them, you must not reflect that they exist in such great quantity in Paris only because they were drawn here by the thousands of cadavers that often lie an entire week without burial.

By January 25 the French were again seeking an armistice. The no-surrender faction tried to incite a coup to continue the war, but only a handful of Parisians rallied to their cause. “To continue the struggle,” said Crémazie, “would mean the death of a million elders, women and children. Hunger is upon us and if we do not wish to die, we have to capitulate right away, without riots and without phrases.”

Fighting officially ended at midnight on January 26, 1871:

So all is lost, despite our sufferings and resignation. We can say that we have endured all that which it was humanly possible to suffer with a courage that was worthy of a happier outcome. For me, I’ve endured more misery in the last two months than in all the rest of my life. Never have I suffered so much from the cold, never have I had my stomach ruined as during the past sixty days of anxieties and privations.